Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Cadwallader Colden, 14 May 1752

To Cadwallader Colden

ALS: New-York Historical Society

Philada. May 14. 1752


I find Parker has been indiscreet enough, to print a Piece in his Paper, which has brought him into a great deal of Trouble.2 I cannot conceive how he was prevail’d on to do it, as I know him to be a thorough Believer himself, and averse to every thing that is commonly called Freethinking. He is now much in his Penitentials, and requests me to intercede with you, to procure from the Governor a Nol. Pros. in his Favour, promising to be very circumspect and careful for the future, not to give Offence either in Religion or Politicks, to you or any of your Friends, in which I believe he is very sincere. I have let him know, that I pretend to no Interest with you, and I fear he has behav’d to the Governor and to you in such a Manner as not to deserve your Favour. Therefore I only beg Leave to recommend the poor Man’s Case to your Consideration; and if you could without Inconvenience to your own Character, interest yourself a little in his Behalf, I shall, as I am much concern’d for him, esteem it a very great Obligation. As to the Cause of Religion, I really think it will be best serv’d by Stopping the Prosecution: For if there be any evil Tendency apprehended from the Publication of that Piece, the Trial and Punishment of the Printer will certainly make it 1000 times more publick, such is the Curiosity of Mankind in these Cases. It is besides, an old Thing, has been printed before both in England, and by Andrew Bradford here;3 but no publick Notice being taken of it, it dy’d and was forgotten, as I believe it would now be, if treated with the same Indifference. I am, with great Respect, Sir, Your most humble Servant

B Franklin

Addressed: To  The honble. Cadwalader Colden Esqr  Coldengham  Free  B Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2James Parker printed in N.-Y. Gaz., April 27, 1752, a deistical attack on Christian doctrines of damnation, salvation, and revelation, in the form of a reply made by an Indian chief to a Swedish missionary at Conestoga, Pa., early in the century. For a full discussion of this essay, its factual basis, and BF’s subsequent use of it, see Alfred Owen Aldridge, “Franklin’s Deistical Indians,” APS Proc., XCIV (1950), 398–410. On May 4 Parker disclaimed belief in deistical principles and reprinted an essay supporting revealed religion from London Gazetteer, Dec. 23, 1751; and on May 11 he felt it necessary to apologize for printing the Indian’s speech and to promise never again to print “any Thing whatsoever, except innocently humorous pieces,” unless they were signed. But Rev. William Smith, soon to become provost of the College of Philadelphia, defended Parker, urging him to change his mind, in a letter (not published) “On the Liberty of the Press.” Albert F. Gegenheimer, William Smith (Phila., 1943), pp. 6–7. On Parker’s indictment and its quashing, see Beverly McAnear, “James Parker versus William Weyman,” N.J. Hist. Soc. Proc., LIX (1941), 9–10 n.

3“The Religion of the Indian Natives of America” appeared in Andrew Bradford’s Amer. Mag., I (1741), 90–4, where the sermon is said to have been printed “in a Latin Book, lately publish’d in Sweden, Entitled the History of the Swedish Church in America.”

Index Entries